Drag Race Alumni Trixie Mattel
Talks Sassiness, her album Two Birds and the politics of drag.
Illustration: Tales of Black Eyed Jack
Can you define sassiness?
Sassiness is confidence, confrontation, and loudness. It makes you think of a white girl at the mall. It’s getting bangs even though that doesn’t work for your face shape. It’s non-conformity.
How sassy are you?
I think I am just tired; we should call your magazine ‘Tired’. That’s a little bit more on brand for me. I just got back last night; I am home for one day. I have 10 press phone calls today, and I leave again for San Francisco tomorrow for my show Ages Three and Up.
Do you have any sassy stories?
Recently on my YouTube series UNHhhh, I was talking about possibly doing the YouTube series in a different way, with a different subject, and for the video they were like, “Well, what do you guys want to talk about? It’s got to be something you guys can make funny”, and I said, “I think we have proved in 40 episodes that we can basically make anything funny”, and I couldn’t believe that came out of my mouth! I was like, ‘Wow, I am really confident!’
How did the album Two Birds come about?
The album is a great celebration, what with all the voice teachers who told me that I should pursue something else. And I grew up listening to folk music – the whole Barbie thing doesn’t match that, but I started to shift the whole Barbie thing to Barbie goes to Coachella, or a sixties Barbie at a protest.
I came up with the title for lots of different reasons; I was really close to my grandparents: my grandma’s spirit animal was an owl, and my grandpa taught me how to play guitar on a hummingbird. I wrote part of the album on my hummingbird and another part on a dove guitar, so the two birds kind of made sense.
It also made me think of Trixie and Brian. It’s all just one voice; it’s one human life story. It’s my experience as me, Brian, but I would not have these experiences had I not been travelling in drag as Trixie.
How did you select the 7 tracks for this album?
It’s six tracks, with a demo of one of the tracks I recorded when I was home for Christmas. I wrote about 13 pieces. I wrote the track See My Man in like 15 minutes; I really liked it and sent it to my producer, and now I think it is one of my favourite tracks from the album. It was a gamble for me as I am known for my comedy and being a drag queen, so I wanted to keep it short so that it won’t be a 12-song failure, just a 6-song failure. I may even do a companion piece.
The video is great – do you have plans for any more?
Videos are really self-indulgent, and I was talking to Bob the drag queen, who said you can’t do music without a video! Since everybody knows me as a drag queen, I thought the song about not wanting to put on the dress is metaphorical, and it can relate to anybody. It’s about working too much, working so much that you feel you are wasting your life. I am like a serious musician, but in drag I look like a joke – it’s like Malibu Barbie holding a guitar; it sometimes doesn’t make sense.
How cathartic was it writing the songs?
I wrote it all for the fun of it. It never occurred to me to record it. I was writing last summer for fun as I was very sad – I was going through a break-up; I was very overworked, burned out, and I didn’t know why I was doing drag. And during my show Ages Three and Up, when I sang this really sad track, I found that the more I am true to myself, the more the audience enjoys it. I play an apulasian folk instrument; it’s called an autoharp. Learning to play it is like easy guitar. I learnt guitar at the kitchen table with my grandpa. He would drink blackberry brandy, and we would be up super late playing and singing.
What would be your three desert island discs?
The Emmylou Harris anthology, Townes Van Zandt Live at the Old Quarter, Houston Texas, and the Dolly Parton ultimate collection.
Who would be your dream duet?
Miley Cyrus. My music is country but has a young kind of vibe to it, and I think she would sound really good on it. My dream would be to quit drag and go and live in the woods somewhere and have Miley pay me to write her songs.
Is an album tour in the works?
It’s like an embarrassment of riches; I am already booked through 2018. The album has done really well, but I just can’t schedule any tours for it. I am writing a new show; it will be a bit like a concert but with stand-up in-between songs. It will feature a couple of songs from the album – some new songs, comedy songs.
How did you get into drag?
I never got a callback for my interview with Forever 21. I was doing my theatre degree, and it was a great way to make money, as an actor. I am just a normal-looking white guy, but in drag, there is only one Trixie Mattel.
How has the Trixie look evolved?
On Drag Race, I was trying to hold back a little bit because I thought in order to win I would have to try and look normal. So when I lost Drag Race both times, I got a personal vendetta, so I started to put as much makeup on my face as I can. For a while, my eyes looked huge – it’s a little more finely tuned now!
My go-to drag outfit is something comfortable, flowy, sixties, with really big hair. I always travel alone , with one giant suitcase for just hair; a giant suitcase for costumes, make-up, and shoes; and a giant suitcase for merchandise. And I also have my guitar.
Where do you see drag in 10 years’ time, and do you see yourself doing drag?
I hope to someday transition into comedy and music without dressing up. But, equally, I love to dress up. With the darker comedy I do, it’s supported by this bright ‘child’s toy’ persona talking about adult things. I love comedy where the audience is not sure whether they should be laughing. Also, look at people like Lady Bunny and Coco Peru – they are performance artists that happen to be in drag. The older you get, you only get funnier.
I think drag is in a little bit of trouble right now because it’s a culture of people that think that drag is just dressing up. People are genuinely surprised when a drag queen can do more than lip-sync. I think that the drag queens that persevere and have a lifelong career are not just ornaments.
How difficult is it to date when you tour and do drag?
It’s challenging because if they understand it, they can like it too much and want to know everything about Drag Race. Or as a performer, you are such a monster, a self-indulgent, self-driven, selfish small business, that it is hard to find somebody who does not think you are a monster. My number-one commitment and reason to live is the artwork, so it’s hard to find someone who does not resent how driven you are.
Who is your ideal man?
My ideal man is somebody who knows drag but doesn’t really care that much about it. They have to think I am really funny, and be able to give me space to go home and be silent for three days. I am old-fashioned, so monogamy is important to me.
What do you think of female drag queens?
They are just drag queens – I love drag queens of all shapes and sizes, and it does not occur to me that it’s a woman.
I think a lot of young women are impressed by drag because the world is telling them what it’s like to be a woman, and drag queens tell women that they can interpret womanhood in any way they want.
What is the one thing you have always wanted to be asked?
Well, I think a lot of people think I am depressed. I am negative, but I am not depressed.
Have you got anything you want to confess?
I don’t remember a lot of people when I meet them, but I am good with faces. A lot of the time I say, ‘It’s nice to see you’, which can mean anything. On this tour, in two weeks I met and greeted 1200 people. When I do a meet-and-greet, it’s like that scene in Precious, when her dad is fucking her, she just kind of leaves her body – that’s me at a meet–and-greet. But I want people to know: I read every single letter and piece of fan mail I receive.
Finally are you doing All Stars 3?
I already lost Drag Race twice, so me being an All Star isn’t about winning a reality TV show. Going out and doing things, like my album and American Horror story, is being an All Star. Drag Race is so stressful; I would rather not compete and then lose again.